Director Roger Michell believes Peter O’Toole’s star turn as an aging actor beguiled by a teen girl in “Venus” is connecting with people for a multitude of reasons.
“It seems to me Peter is profoundly himself in this part, and willing to be very honest about old people’s yearnings and sexuality,” says Michell, who decided the moment he saw O’Toole at their first meeting that the iconic Irish actor was a perfect fit for the role. “He gives a vulnerable performance that’s not vain in any way.”
O’Toole, of course, is accustomed to giving seminal performances. He’s a seven-time Oscar nominee (but has never won, though he received an honorary award in 2003) and has starred in such classic films as “Lawrence of Arabia” and “The Lion in Winter.”
Prior to meeting with O’Toole, Michell had seen the actor on British television in “Casanova.”
“As I was watching him, I realized he hadn’t had a lead role like this one in probably 20 years and that it was going to be wonderful to help bring that talent back if he liked the script,” says Michell, whose previous two films (“Enduring Love,” “The Mother”) teamed him with Daniel Craig, the newest Bond.
That stark performance becomes unflinching in moments during a doctor’s examination and conversations with his former wife, played by Vanessa Redgrave.
“Peter seemed to have an instinctive and immediate understanding of this character and how to play him,” says Michell. “He wasn’t afraid to show the tragedy of Maurice as an older character who hasn’t become wiser or better or even less foolish with age and now has to look at his mistakes.”
Those mistakes come to include the character’s developing lust for a girl far too young for him and the dangers those feelings bring into his life. The girl placates the older man’s feelings in order to solicit his emotional and financial attention.
“We’re straying into areas that are taboo here,” says Michell. “The closest comparisons you could probably draw would be ‘Lolita’ and ‘Educating Rita,’ but the scenes aren’t offensive because they show the truth of the character’s feelings.”
O’Toole’s professionalism and preparation made it easier to deal with those scenes onset for the director.
“Peter understood we were working on a low-budget film with time constraints and understood the subject matter so beautifully,” says Michell.
After working with O’Toole, the length of the actor’s career is no surprise to the director.
“The actors who succeed most in the medium are the ones who the camera X-rays and shows us what they’re feeling and thinking,” explains Michell. “Peter is formidable as an actor in so many ways because he’s someone who reveals so much to the camera and because of his intelligence as a person coupled with remarkable skill honed over the last 50 years.”
Next project: Paramount sci-fi pic “Stardust,” co-starring Robert De Niro, Claire Danes and Michelle Pfeiffer